Summary: Why is it that we so often look for the negative in situations and fall back on fault-finding and grumbling?
Action and Reaction
I am not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination but I have, for some unknown reason, always remembered since my school-going days Sir Isaacs Newton’s third law of motion. I know that all of you are thoroughly familiar with it – but just in case you’ve momentarily forgotten! – it reads ‘For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.’ If you’re not sure what that means in reality let me give you an example, again from my younger and more dissolute past! How many of you have played pool? Well those of you who have played will know that when you aim the white ball at one of the coloured balls at an angle the white ball will change direction after it hits its target – of course assuming it does hit it! This is as a result of its reaction to colliding with force against the other ball which then reacts with equal force.
Now you may ask why has that piece of seemingly useless scientific trivia stuck with me? I think it’s because I believe that same law holds true in many many areas of our lives outside of its purely scientific application. In fact I would be tempted to say that our entire world is made up of opposite and often opposing facts and forces which constantly inter-react.
God himself, at the very beginning of time, created the first pair of opposites – light and darkness, day and night. He then created man and woman and what can be more opposite than that! And they in turn were responsible for unleashing evil into what had been a good world. And we can go on and on identifying these opposing forces that exist around us.
Perhaps one of the most disturbing examples of this phenomenon of opposition is the tendency of many people to react negatively to situations, by finding fault. Even when something apparently good and worthwhile happens they are tempted to look for hidden agenda’s. They react to the good by looking for the evil. And the more good that emanates from the action then often the more suspicious the reaction.
And it was no different in Jesus’ time as we read in this morning’s gospel. No sooner had Jesus performed the miracle of feeding the 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fishes than people began to question his motives. And when he answered them “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry…” what was their reaction? In verse 41 we see they began to grumble about him. Despite seeing for themselves the power that Jesus displayed they still wanted to find fault – to find a reason for disbelieving, for explaining away, in human terms, what had happened.
“Is this not the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” they ask themselves – “so how could he possibly be for real, how could he be the bread that came down from heaven?”
But what starts out as mere grumbling, over time turns to accusations of ‘troublemaker’ and eventually grows into that final terrible crescendo of “Crucify him!” And it all begins with the willingness to find fault.
At this point most of us may sit back sanctimoniously and say to ourselves that we would never have reacted that way. And of course that’s true with the benefit of hindsight – we have experienced the saving grace of Jesus and seen the way that his teaching has fundamentally changed the world. There is no reason for us to doubt his words.
Which reminds me of the story of the businessman who found himself seated next to a little old lady on the plane. She was reading her Bible. After a while he smugly asked her, "You don’t really believe all that stuff in there do you?"
The lady replied: "Of course I do, it is the Bible." He smiled: "Well what about the guy that was swallowed by that whale?" She replied: "Oh, Jonah. Yes, I believe that -- it is in the Bible.
He asked: "Well, how do you suppose he survived all that time he spent inside the whale?" The lady said: "I don’t really know. I guess when I get to heaven, I will ask him."
"What if he isn’t in heaven?" the man smiled, sarcastically. The little old lady smiled back: "In that case, you will be able to ask him."
That businessman is typical of very many people we encounter today. Their reaction to the things of God tends to be antagonistic and negative – and often the closer they come to him the stronger their reaction.
And let’s not fall into the trap of saying or thinking that it’s a reaction that belongs solely to people back in Jesus’ time or to those people today who are far from God. Sadly finding fault can be a part of our lives too.